A Brief History of Pulaski’s Legion in the Minisink Valley

November 1778 - February 1779


In many areas during the American Revolution, the struggle between the Crown and Congress took on the tone of civil war, as neighbors fought neighbors. This was the case in the Minisink Valley, where local militias would conduct raids on a regular basis. Throughout the war, both sides vied for the support of the local Indian nations, and in the Minisink, more often than not, the local Indian nations cast their lot in with the British and their Tory sympathizers. Armed and equipped in places such as Niagara, raiding parties under the command of such men as Capt. John Butler and Joseph Brant (known also by his Mohawk name, Thayendanegea) would slash and burn their way through the frontier in frequent, bloody raids. Such attacks took place in the Minisink in July 1778, as well as the Wyoming Valley (near current Wilkes Barre, PA) and Cherry Valley in upstate NY.

Local inhabitants petitioned Congress and the Continental Army to provide some sort of protection from these ongoing raids. In November, 1778, Congress ordered the Independent Legion of Brigadier General Count Casimir Pulaski to the Sussex Courthouse.

Pulaski’s Legion was a mixed force of approximately 70 mounted dragoons, and 200 infantrymen. It was the brainchild of Pulaski, who came to America as a volunteer to the Continental Army in 1777. After serving as the Commander of American Cavalry for a brief time, Pulaski obtained permission to raise a legion, a corps of troops whose main purpose would be to conduct patrols, harass the enemy, and conduct guerrilla-type raids, fashioned after the type of unit he had commanded while fighting in Poland.

After arriving at Sussex Courthouse, the Legion was then ordered to the village of Minisink. Instructions were given to post the Legion at Cole’s Fort, where it was felt that there would be more available food and forage for his troops. Pulaski had somewhat of a reputation for commandeering supplies needed for his troops, and that reputation was probably on Washington’s mind when he wrote to Pulaski:

 

"I must beg you to make use of all means to keep your Corps from marauding or in any way distressing the Inhabitants, who will cheerfully contribute every thing to your support if properly demanded. There are two Gentlemen of particular influence in that Country, Mr. Depui and Mr. Van Camp, who will assist you very much in procuring Forage and other necessaries."

 

 

By the time the Legion arrived at Cole’s Fort, the stockpile of supplies there had been destroyed in a Tory raid, and the troops were now in desperate need of blankets, shirts, ammunition and even surgical instruments. Local inhabitants, who had been the targets of so many previous raids, were either unwilling or unable to offer needed supplies to the Legion. Pulaski suggested to Henry Laurens, the President of Congress, that his cavalry be stationed in an area which could provide more forage, but for the time being, they were left in the Minisink.

Pulaski was also severely disillusioned with the Minisink. His vision was to use his Legion to patrol enemy positions and conduct attacks, not to defend a frontier area against sudden raids by savages and marauders. In the wooded frontier, his cavalry was practically useless. By the end of November, Pulaski wrote a letter of protest to Congress, stating in part:

 

"I demand to be employed near the Ennemies Lines, and it is though proper to place me in an Exile which even the Savages shun, and nothing remains but the Bears to Fight with. I should have less grief - however if the earth produced a sufficiency to feed my Horses, but they will starve and it will be said it is my fault."

To add to Pulaski’s problems, his newly appointed colonel of infantry, Stanislaw Kolkowski, had barely arrived at the Minisink before he had an encounter with a civilian named David Westfall. Accused of having "abused" Westfall, Kolkowski was sent to Philadelphia, where he was found guilty before a Court Martial, and was discharged from the Continental Army.

Thoroughly dissatisfied with his assignment, Pulaski seems to have spent a good portion of his time in the Minisink writing letters to both Congress and General Washington about how unhappy he was, and how he was considering resigning his commission and returning to Poland.

Washington gave permission to move the cavalry from the Minisink region, and by December, they were quartered in Easton, Pennsylvania. Later in December, they were ordered to Wilmington, Delaware. The infantry of the Legion remained in the area of Cole’s Fort through the winter of 1778-79.

Throughout late 1778, the British Army had begun a series of assaults on positions in the southern colonies; most notably Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. Washington knew that he would have to shift some of his Army to the South, and therefore in February, 1779, ordered Pulaski’s Legion to march to South Carolina. It would be in the Carolinas and Georgia that the Legion would see most of its fighting, but it would also be at Savannah that Pulaski would be mortally wounded in battle on October 9, 1779.

* Information taken from "Pulaski: A Portrait of Freedom", R.D. Jamro, Printcraft Press, Savannah, Georgia, 1979.

 



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